‘Duke’ of Broadway: Tom Wopat sings stage hits with the Spokane Symphony
From 1979 to 1985, Tom Wopat was known to most of America as Luke Duke, one of the troublemaking Southern brothers on the CBS comedy “The Dukes of Hazzard.” But a lot of Wopat’s TV fans probably weren’t aware – and maybe still aren’t – that the actor had been a staple of the Broadway stage before he was ever a television icon.
Wopat, who’s now based out of New York, will be a featured vocalist in the Spokane Symphony’s first SuperPops concert of the season. Saturday night’s program is titled “Blockbuster Broadway,” and it will be loaded with show tunes from some of the most popular musicals of all time – “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked,” “The Sound of Music,” “A Chorus Line.”
“It’s a lot of fun, and I can guarantee that people will enjoy it,” Wopat said during a recent phone interview. “It’ll sound great, and I’m sure the symphony’s terrific. I think I have some old player friends out there I might see.”
Since making his Broadway debut in 1977 with the Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart musical “I Love My Wife,” Wopat has appeared in dozens of productions and received Tony nominations for his work in a 1999 revival of “Annie Get Your Gun” and the original run of “A Catered Affair.” He’s also released several pop and country albums as a solo artist and has landed roles on shows like “Cybill,” “Smallville” and “Longmire.”
But it’s his years as Luke Duke that remain Wopat’s best known gig, though he says his “Dukes” notoriety never hindered his Broadway prospects, even at a time when being a TV actor carried a stigma.
“It didn’t affect my work at all. What it does is it affects perception,” Wopat said. “Broadway has always been hiring people from movies and TV and everything else. They find a celebrity wherever they can. … If I had stayed in New York and not done television, I might have become a bigger Broadway star, but I’m not sure what the hell that means, either.
“But that’s totally destroyed these days. Film actors want to do TV. It’s more steady.”
At the upcoming SuperPops concert, Wopat, under the direction of Morihiko Nakahara, will be appearing alongside vocalists Kelli Rabke Agresta, Scott Coulter and John Boswell. He’s performed as a solo vocalist with symphonic accompaniment many times before, including with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra in 2002.
“It’s one of the things I very much enjoy,” Wopat said. “It’s the best backing band you’ll ever have. To have an orchestra, and if they can swing a bit, it’s a lot of fun.”
Many of the evening’s musical selections will be from shows that Wopat has previously appeared in – one of the concert’s highlights, he says, is a medley that includes selections from “The Pajama Game” and “West Side Story.” But no matter how many times he belts out “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun” or “Soliloquy” from “Carousel,” Wopat says his goal as a performer is to interpret classic songs in a way that will connect with contemporary audiences.
“I want them to understand the song the way I understand the song,” Wopat said. “If it’s ironic, I want them to understand that, and if it’s sarcastic, I want them to understand that. And if it’s pure romance or swing or comedy, like a novelty number, I want them to get it. … The song is much more important (than the artist). When I sing the national anthem, it ain’t about me. That’s really what my performance standard is, to really make people feel something.”